Geographical variations in A level subject uptake in 2016

Geographical variations in A level subject uptake in 2016

December 2017


Cambridge Assessment publishes an extensive set of Statistics Reports providing statistical information about the examinations system in England. This includes provision and uptake of subjects at GCSE and A level, and how this varies by school type, gender and students' prior attainment.

We have recently published a new report (number 118) which explores geographical differences in uptake of A level subjects across England for the first time. This Data Byte illustrates the results in an interactive format.

This interactive map shows the uptake for a given A level subject as a percentage of the total number of students studying A levels in each local authority area. To see the uptake values and names of the local authority areas, hover over areas of the map.

You can zoom in and out and pan around the map. Click the 'Reset view' button to return to the initial view of the whole of England.

You can select a different subject using the drop-down list: the map will automatically update. Subjects are listed in descending order of uptake across England.

Uptake (% of A level students)

Data source: Department for Education National Pupil Database 2016
Contains National Statistics data © Crown copyright and database right 2017
Contains OS data © Crown copyright and database right 2017

What does the chart show?

The map shows the uptake for a given A level subject: the number of students taking an A level exam in that subject as a percentage of the total number of students studying A levels in the area.

In order to show the geographical variations more clearly, the colour scale varies between A level subjects. Areas shaded white have an uptake close to the average uptake of that subject for England (indicated above the map); those which are red have higher than average uptake, while blue areas have lower than average uptake.

The data for these analyses was taken from the National Pupil Database (NPD) 2016. This is a database held by the Department for Education, consisting of results for all students in all subjects in schools and colleges in England, as well as student characteristics such as age and gender. Boundary data for the map was obtained from the Office for National Statistics Open Geography Portal.

Why is the chart interesting?

Although our statistics report indicates that other characteristics, such as gender and prior attainment, often have more effect on uptake variations than geographical differences, there are some interesting patterns which persist when looking across subgroups.

For example, uptake of Mathematics A level in 2016 was higher in London than in surrounding areas; conversely, Geography A level was much less popular in London. Economics uptake was particularly high in a band of England stretching from Wiltshire and Gloucestershire to Essex. A clear north/south divide is apparent for English Language, with higher uptake in the North of England, while Photography was most popular among areas along the south coast.

The geographical variations in uptake could relate to demographics, the organisation of post-16 educational provision in an area (for example, whether it is concentrated in a small number of large colleges, or a larger number of school sixth forms; or the presence and characteristics of independent schools), local employment and higher education opportunities.

Please leave a comment below if you have any questions about the data or ideas you would like to discuss relating to this Data Byte.

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